TAMPA, Fla. —Though he was widely regarded as one of the top five prospects in the 2012 draft, Teuvo Teravainen wasn’t ready for the NHL when he was selected by the Blackhawks. He wasn’t even ready for the NHL prospects combine that preceded it.
The 17-year-old Teravainen weighed in at 161 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame. And he struggled just to finish the intense conditioning tests at the combine.
Then he threw up.
“The bike test, it was very bad,” Teravainen told reporters at the combine in Toronto. “I did my best, so I’m happy.”
Teravainen’s slight build and a run on defenseman helped push Teravainen into the middle of the first round in the 2012 draft. (Eight defensemen were selected among the top 10 picks, including the Lightning taking Slater Koekkoek at No. 10.) The Blackhawks — not expecting Teravainen to be there —eagerly took the Helsinki, Finland native with the 18th overall pick.
Nearly three years and 17 whole pounds later, Teravainen still needs to bulk up to realize his vast potential in the NHL. But for now, the instincts, unique skill set and playmaking ability that scouts saw in Teravainen as a teenager are trumping any concerns about his weight or his inexperience.
With a bonus: The kid’s got a knack for making things happen. Teravainen’s one-timer in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night improbably found an opening through traffic to beat Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop. And his timing couldn’t have been much better — on the road, with the Hawks down 1-0 and time running out in the third period. Moments later, Teravainen’s active stick forced a turnover in the Lightning’s end that led to Antoine Vermette’s game-winning goal as the Hawks won 2-1 to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper called Tervainen’s goal a “seeing-eye single” after the game, but gave the 20-year-old rookie credit where it was due on Thursday.
“It was a nice play,” Cooper said. “He threw a puck at the end that probably nine times out of 10 doesn’t go in. But it went in for him. I think that’s what happens to players of his skill level. Pucks have eyes for those guys.”
For all of Teravainen’s unique skills and deft stick-handling, all three of his postseason goals have been of the uncanny variety. In Game 1 against the Wild in the second round, his flip shot from the boards surprised Devan Dubnyk for a freak goal that broke a 3-3 tie in the final minute of the first period and ended up being the difference in a 4-3 victory. In Game 5 against the Ducks in the Western Conference final, Teravainen’s shot from the slot sneaked between Frederik Andersen’s pads and slithered past the goal line to start a comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
“We’re fortunate he’s been in some big stages and settings in the past. He seems to do well in those situations,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Top guys, they want to be great every time they hit the ice. They want to play. They make players better around them, which is a strength of his.
“But [he’s] quietly confident as he’s gone about it. Very respectful for the players that are around here. Quietly going about his business the right way, which is a nice, nice start.”
Teravainen’s easy-going, even-tempered demeanor is probably a big reason he is here after an up-and-down season in which he was cut in training camp and had a relatively undefined role after being called up in January. He was a healthy scratch for the final four games of the opening series against Nashville. He also was a healthy scratch in Game 3 against the Ducks in the Western Conference final.
“He’s growing more confident every game,” teammate Marian Hossa said. “He doesn’t seem to have a heartbeat. He’s so calm. He’s Finnish cold.”
“I never heard that before,” Teravainen said. “I guess that’s right —I try to be pretty calm out there, do my thing [and not] stress about it too much. I think I play better if I’m just calm and ready.”
Tervainen has three goals and eight points with a plus-3 rating in 13 playoff games —including two goals and five points in five games since he was benched against the Ducks. He had four goals and nine points with a plus-4 differential in 34 regular-season games.
“He’s a smart kid,” teammate Antoine Vermette said. “He sees the ice really well. Great skill. He’s an exciting, fun player to watch. Very good with the puck. Like with [the assist on Vermette’s goal], he has a good active stick. He kept moving his feet and he made a great play.”
Not surprisingly, Teravainen comes form a hockey-playing family. “My mom plays floor ball —it’s popular in Finland,” Teuvo said. “My dad also. My sister is pretty good, too. My brother is pretty good. He’s a [defenseman].
“But I think right now I’m the best,” he added with a smile, eliciting laugher from reporters at Amalie Arena. “We’ll see how it’s going.”
So far, so good. But it’s the future that has the Hawks excited about Teuvo Teravainen. This looks like just the beginning. With world-class players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Teravainen is on the right team at the right time.
“He’s got lots of upside,” Quenneville said. “I think watching these guys on a regular basis could help him grow, help him learn what it takes to be a great player game-in, game-out —[dealing with] expectations, other teams trying to keep an eye on you.”